By Matt Jenkins
---- — Athletically, Erik Fyrer was looking for a change.
Approximately one week before the Pingree football team headed into preseason camp, Fyrer’s transfer from Ipswich High School was complete. It seemed like the perfect time to make the shift from soccer, Fyrer’s fall sport since he was young, to football, a sport he had minimal experience playing.
Fyrer has the size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and athleticism to be a threat on the gridiron, but so far it’s been his leg strength that has made the biggest difference for the Highlanders.
”When we tried out the coaches asked if anyone wanted to try (kicking), and I said I’d give it a shot,” said Fyrer, who re-classified as a junior at Pingree. “Kickoffs, those were pretty easy to get. Field goals, I had the distance and the range, but I’ve had to make some changes to get my accuracy down. Hopefully, I’ve figured it out ... but it’s still a work in progress.”
So far, Fyrer has been a key component to Pingree’s high-flying offense. He’s 31-for-32 on extra points (one was blocked) and kicked a 34-yard field goal in a game.
Bishop Fenwick’s Kyle Russell has a story similar to Fyrer.
Russell spent his first three years at Fenwick playing soccer — two years with the junior varsity and one on varsity — before opting for football this fall.
The addition of Russell, like Fyrer at Pingree, has paid dividends for the unbeaten Crusaders (6-0), who locked up the Catholic Central League title last weekend. Russell has made 29 extra points and kicked a pair of field goals from 26 and 33 yards, respectively, in the team’s season-opening win over Hamilton-Wenham.
”I always wanted to play football and this was my final year to try it,” Russell said. “It seemed like a good time.”
The timing couldn’t have been any better. Fenwick has a powerful offense, and coach Dave Woods was expecting senior captain Nick Bona to handle the kicking duties. Bona isn’t a natural kicker, though, and he’s heavily counted on as the team’s quarterback and the top tackler on defense.
So Russell got an opportunity late in the preseason and it’s been magic ever since.
”We had him at receiver and defensive back and Nick was doing the kicking almost until the first game of the year,” Woods said. “One preseason game somebody said Kyle played soccer and he could kick. We put him out there and he kicked great. Right away, under pressure, he kicked a field goal (against H-W) and it didn’t even faze him. It was a great surprise.”
Having a trusted kicker is a huge relief for high school football coaches.
”What it’s done for me as an offensive coordinator is that I don’t think twice after a touchdown; I automatically think seven points. He’s so consistent I think in bunches of seven instead of six,” Woods said.
In addition to extra points, the kickers can also be an added scoring weapon.
The field goal record for Pingree is 42 yards, set by Carlos O’Donnell in 2007, and Highlanders’ coach Chris Powers suggested earlier this season that Fyrer could threaten that mark. In practice, Fyrer has connected from 47 yards.
”It’s a lot of confidence. Offensively if we get it down inside the 20, I’m pretty comfortable kicking a field goal,” Powers said. “It’s an extra weapon. It’s almost a different philosophy to make sure you come away with points.”
Russell feels his range is between 40-45 yards and says he’d love to get the opportunity to kick one from that distance in a game. He knows it’s unlikely, however, due to Fenwick’s powerful offense.
Still, to put the contributions of Russell and Fyrer in context, that kicking duo currently ranks 16th and 17th on the North Shore in scoring. Russell is second in points for Fenwick with 35, trailing only running back Rufus Rushins and his 15 touchdowns.
Fyrer, meanwhile, is third in scoring for Pingree with 34 points. Johnnie Spears leads the Highlanders with 14 TDs and Griffin Beal is second with 36 points.
As long as Fenwick and Pingree keep moving the football, Russell and Fyrer will continue scoring points. Their coaches and teammates understand how important that is when trying to roll out wins.
”The last kicker we had was probably Tommy Marino back in 2003,” Woods said. “He kicked two field goals in the Arlington Catholic game, one with no time left on the clock to beat them and win the league. That was the last time we won the league, maybe there’s a correlation there.”
It should be noted that on the North Shore (The Salem News coverage area, plus Gloucester) there are only five kickers with field goals to their credit so far: the aforementioned Fyrer and Russell, Beverly’s Matt Madden, Gloucester’s Eli Horne (who has a pair of field goals), and Swampscott’s Jeremy Epstein.
Madden, a sophomore, has been an extremely versatile player for the Panthers. As a running back, he’s currently 11th in scoring in the area with five touchdowns, 13 extra points and one field goal. He’s the most likely player to fill all scoring categories, needing only a two-point conversion to cover all the bases. He even threw a touchdown pass to the team’s regular QB, Nick Manthorne, in Beverly’s win over Marblehead a couple weeks ago.
Marblehead’s Brian Daly has had a sensational season so far. He’s already grabbed 10 touchdown passes from Matt Millett, which puts him in a small group of players from the last 10 seasons. Only Swampscott’s A.J. Baker (11 TDs in 2011), Masco’s Eric Bunker (10 in 2006), and North Shore Tech’s Cam White (10 in 2007) and Jesus McKinney (10 in 2004) have hit double digits in touchdown grabs during that time.
Daly is a solid all-around receiver who can make people miss and catch balls over the middle. His real strength, though, seems to be the connection he has with Millett on balls thrown down the field.
Millett’s deep ball seems to carry more than opposing defensive backs expect, which allows Daly to use his speed to run under it.
It’s a connection that will no doubt be heard from again this season as the Magicians try to make a deep run in the Division 3 Northeast playoffs.
Moving The Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears each Friday in The Salem News during the high school football season. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at email@example.com or 978-338-2648, and follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.